Cultural touches grieve locals of the royal city

(No.3, Vol.9, Jun-Jul 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Text by Song Phuoc and Photos by Le Huy Hoang Hai


Culture has served as the most sensitive part to Hue natives and they are always ready to fight for the cultural values that have existed in a long period of time in this former imperial capital city.

Hue natives show strong respect to local culture. In history, locals proved this through the fight against the invasion of Catholics accompanied by the French colonialists in 19th century.

Today people in this royal city remain cautious and conservative against the integration, particularly in culture. Most of the people here consider the cultural exchange as in invasion in culture rather than a process to get locals integrated into the popular norms globally.

Recently, dedicated cultural researchers from Japan and several countries that are motivated in cultural conservation have come in the city and appraised it as the best one in the country in preserving the old positive values to Vietnamese people.

Those comments have made locals more responsible for their culture and costume is a prominent example.

In light of the Vietnamese national costume ao dai, Hue natives’ pride stays at two key points. The first is that the city was the birthplace of this charming dressing style. The costume was created in Hue by a ruler among Nguyen Lords (1558-1777), the ancestors of later kings under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). Minh Mang, the second king of the dynasty, made the costume popular throughout the country and it became the national costume today.

Locals are also proud of the popularity of ao dai in daily life in the city as well as the well preservation of the costume traditions. Middle-aged and elder local women remain the choice of ao dai as the only formal costume for them.

Once the pride is big, locals always have an open wide eye on any touch to the costume. Any changes to the traditional designs of ao dai will easily get boos.

Traditionally, local women combine ao dai with non la, which is a type of hat made by palm leaves in conical shape. Earlier in April, Minh Hanh, a popular fashion designer in the country had her models worn ao dai and non la participated in a street parade during an event honouring Vietnamese craftsmanship held in this royal city.

Fashion paradise in Hue, April 2019

Minh Hanh, who is a native to Hue but she lives in HCMC, forgot about the local pride. She thought she should have her impression maker by adding the characters of HUE on the conical hats.

At the first sight, the characters created no good impression in light of aesthetics. The emerging part on the top of the hats brought an eyesore to audience. Minh Hanh defended that the combination of the costume and the conical hat is a typical style of Hue and her adding of the characters was to remind audiences of that.

Right after the parade, however, there was a public surge demanded the designer as well as event organiser to explain for the ‘cruelty’ to the beauty of ao dai and non la. Locals said they did not see the characters but “trunks on the hat”.

Many gave boos to the show and they expressed their disappointment over Minh Hanh, a Hue native.

In the same period of time, local researchers and residents wanted ‘decent dressing’ for a statue. Despite the Party Committee of Thua Thien Hue Province, where Hue is a part, decided to have the naked statue in the city, it is hard for the statue to have a place in locals’ heart.

The park where the giant naked statue will be erected following the decision by local Party Committee

Earlier last year, Cho Kwang-han, mayor of Namyangju City in South Korea visited Hue and expressed the will to offer Hue the 6 metre naked statue. He wanted a present to celebrate the newly-affirmed friendship between the two cities.

The statue,‘Greeting man,’ features a naked, blue man bowing. It was created by South Korean sculptor Yoo Young-ho to represent peace, reconciliation, and communication. The artist hopes to put 1,000 such statues up across the world in places where the scars of war remain. Hue was not the first to have that offer. Once Hue agrees to erect the statue here, the city would be the fourth place in the world to have it.

By now, the statue has yet to arrive in Vietnam. Once approval for the reception is made on paper, the South Korean city will ship it to the royal city.

Under the public opposition, city authorities then had experienced an headache time as they did not want to refuse the Korean side. They were struggling in finding a proper venue to erect the statue.

The Korean side recommended Hue to reserve a place for the naked Greeting man in front of the royal citadel, a site in Dong Ba Market, or a plot in the park staying opposite to the city’s Cultural Centre. Those are the area with crowds in the city.

The city in April gathered a meeting with experts and cultural researchers, consulting whether the statute should be accepted and once having it, a place best suit the giant statue in the city should be found.

Public agencies had agreed the city should accept the statue, but opinion was split researchers and locals, due to the city’s reputation for preserving Vietnamese culture, including decent clothing style.

Artists and art lecturers in the local University of Arts said the statue was not prominent artistically and had no relation to local culture and should not be displayed in the city.

Researchers wanted the statue to be smaller and it should be placed in a newly-developed urban area to ensure it would not make any interferes to local cultural legacy.

On the cyber dialogues, local net citizens expressed no good impression to the statue. Some wanted the naked statue to be erected in Thuan An Beach, which is 20km far from the city centre and crowded with bikini swimmers. Many demanded the repairing work on the statue to give it decent clothing.

Others questioned the meaning of the statue, saying why it was naked when it conveyed the message of apology. Locals consider being naked rudeness. Many said once the statue was meaningful to war scars, it should be presented in Hue’s neighbouring QuangTri Province, a locality hit the hardest by war bombs or somewhere in Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh and Phu Yen, where in the wartime, local women were victims to sexual harassment by South Korean soldiers.

City authorities later announced that they preferred placing it on the southern bank of the famed Huong (Perfume) River, adjacent to an end of the controversial footbridge built on the water surface and running along the bank, using (South) Korea International Cooperation Agency funds.

City authorities at the same time sent a report to the province’s Party’s Committee and the committee in late May decided the statue would have a plot in the park buffering the river and local University of Pedagogy.

The park is home to statues created by international sculptors years ago during a camp held in the city. The park’s view is blocked by the famed Truong Tien Bridge and it receives less attention among locals. Many of the statues there have been ruined intentionally but authorities have failed to catch in red any of the breakers.

According to researcher Tran Dinh Hang, locals are not too conservative to changes, especially those changes that occur in a respectable manner to local cultural legacy.

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